Barcelona was forced to let Argentina superstar Lionel Messi leave the club because his wage demands could have jeopardised its financial situation and its future, President Joan Laporta said on Friday.

The club and Messi, 34, had both wanted to sign a new contract but the Argentine’s deal would have taken salaries to 110% of the club’s earnings, a financially risky move given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laporta said.

“The club is above everything – even above the best player in the world,” Laporta told a news conference.

“We reached agreement but couldn’t formalise it, because of the club’s economic situation, which means we can’t register the player due to salary limits,” he said.

Without Messi’s wages, salaries would account for 95% of Barcelona’s income, he said.

Messi had wanted to sign a new contract at Barcelona on reduced terms but the club was unable to come up with an arrangement that also complied with the financial rules of Spain’s La Liga competition.

Messi’s last contract, signed in 2017, was the most lucrative in world sport according to a January report in newspaper El Mundo. Forbes has listed him as the athlete with the world’s second-highest earnings in 2021, at $130 million.

“To suddenly end like this when you thought he was already contracted again… It’s really sad, really really sad,” said 36-year-old student and Barca fan Jose Rivero earlier, standing on the street in the Catalan capital.

Even fans of arch-rivals Real Madrid were sorry to see Messi leave. “I’m a Real Madrid fan but I consider Messi one of the best, if not the best player of all time,” said newsstand owner Roberto, 63, at his kiosk in the Spanish capital.

Laporta said the club had lined up two new deals with Messi, firstly a two-year deal made payable over five years, and then a separate five-year deal, but could not get either deal done because of La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

Messi’s father and agent Jorge Messi did not reply to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Laporta said that they would have been able to get Messi’s new deal over the line if they had agreed to La Liga’s proposed 2.7 billion euro injection from CVC here, adding however that he was not willing to gamble on that for the short-term gain.

“In order to meet FFP, Barca had to agree to an operation, essentially re-mortgaging the club, which would affect us for the next 50 years in terms of TV rights, and I had to make the decision,” he said.

La Liga president Javier Tebas wrote on Twitter however that the CVC deal would not mortgage Barca’s TV rights for 50 years. “What it does is ensure they are more valuable for all clubs … Or so you understood it a few hours ago,” he wrote.

Laporta said the club considered CVC’s investment well below what 10% of La Liga was worth. Read More

By Ian Dei

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